Progress Report

Let's say you've done every rep of every set with perfect form. Let's also assume that you warm up and stretch religiously, and your nutrition is as pure as a field of soy beans. What you will discover, no doubt, is that no matter how slowly you started your program, you've had your share of aches and pains. If you're wondering if this is normal, the answer is "yes." The bottom line is that while we'll do everything we can to help you avoid injuries, muscle soreness is a natural consequence of a new weight-lifting program.

Whenever you introduce a new activity to your body, you experience what we will call growing pains. This is a natural consequence as your muscles, tendons, and ligaments adapt to the new stresses and strains of muscular overload. In fact, even someone who is ridiculously fit will be sore if they do a new routine with any intensity. What we want you to be able to do is differentiate between good hurt and bad hurt. Good hurt you can work through; bad hurt is a sure signal to stop immediately.

There are two types of soreness that you're likely to experience during weight training: acute soreness—the discomfort you feel during and right after a set—and a more gradual, duller ache that comes on in the days after you lift.

The Burn

In gym parlance, acute soreness is referred to as the "burn." Typically, it occurs during and immediately following exercise. When you're completing the last few reps of a set, your muscles are working hard. As the muscle is taxed, it actually presses against your arteries and cuts off blood flow. (This is the rough equivalent of having an inflated cuff on when you're having your blood pressure taken.) As a result, lactic acid, a by-product of anaerobic activity, accumulates. This combination of lactic acid and blood flow occlusion is what is thought to cause momentary muscle failure. Got that? The miracle of the human body is that within a few seconds of the end of the set, the burn dissipates as the muscle is engorged with even more blood than usual to compensate for what was lost during the set. This process is what causes the temporary (but ego-boosting) "pump" phenomenon.


Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) refers to pain and soreness that occurs 24 to 48 hours after exercise. DOMS is due to the microscopic muscle damage that takes place when you lift. The eccentric or negative phase of the exercise contributes more than its fair share to this soreness—especially if you use extra weight for the negatives (a technique we'll describe in the next chapter). Usually, you'll feel the beginning of DOMS the day after you lift; however, it often reaches its peak at about 48 hours after the fact. Putting ice on the affected area can help reduce some of the edema at the site and help alleviate the pain. The soreness should start to ease after that and last no more than three to four days. If the pain lasts significantly longer or becomes worse, we suggest you see a physician.

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